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The Big Picture

Now that Christopher Guest has found and embraced his directorial niche — hysterically off-center mockumentaries about people on the fringes of life — it's interesting to look back at his feature debut. The Big Picture (1989) is a biting showbiz satire clearly born of Guest's own experiences in Hollywood. And despite eschewing the talking-head interviews and "authentic" behind-the-scenes footage of this other films, Guest still manages to skewer the institution of Tinseltown almost as thoroughly as he did with regional theater in Waiting for Guffman (1996) and canine competition in Best in Show (2000). It's just too bad he didn't take that skewer and twist it a little bit in the wound; The Big Picture's biggest flaw is that it doesn't go quite as far over the top as it could have. Guest offers occasional hints of the truly black comedy lurking beneath the surface: The student film clips shown during the awards banquet at which hero Nick Chapman (an earnest Kevin Bacon) takes top honors are absolutely hysterical, and Martin Short steals his scenes as the fawning, Ronald McDonald-haired agent who woos Nick once he's been deemed "hot." More often, though, Guest opts for subtler digs as he tells the tale of an impressionable film student who sells out for fast fame, takes a hard fall, and gradually reclaims his artistic integrity. Bacon does a fine job as Nick, reacting well to the crazy people he meets on his wild Hollywood ride, from J.T. Walsh as a slick producer to Teri Hatcher as an ambitious starlet to Jennifer Jason Leigh as an artsy, overly wacky fellow film-school grad. But in the end, although Nick's journey is satisfying and often funny, it lacks the punch of Guest's later work. You have to wonder what he'd do with a movie-making mockumentary... Perhaps because of Guest's more recent successes, Columbia made the effort to give The Big Picture a decent DVD treatment (especially for an older catalog release). Though the film was always more about story and character than cinematography and production values, the remastered anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) is solid (a full-screen version is also on the disc), and the Dolby 2.0 Surround audio is just fine (English and French subtitles are available). On the extras front, Bacon and Guest team up for a commentary peppered with "do you remember?"s and praise for the rest of the cast and crew, while three deleted scenes offer the chance to see Bacon do both Jerry Lewis and Michael Jackson impressions. Filmographies, trailers. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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